Illustration of Lisa Kroon
Illustration: John Jay Cabuay

Just four hours after UCSF secured its first shipment of Pfizer’s COVID vaccine on Dec. 16, eager pharmacists-in-training were delivering doses into the arms of frontliners just as eager to receive the lifesaving substance.

“This is history – it’s very emotional – and our students wanted to be part of it,” explains Lisa Kroon, chair of clinical pharmacy and the T.A. Oliver Professor, who despite the significance of the event was surprised by the speed with which volunteers signed up. 

Speed. Efficiency. Precision. Safety. That’s how Kroon describes UCSF’s all-hands-on-deck effort to vaccinate frontline workers, patients, clinicians, scientists – in short, every eligible and willing arm. UCSF poured resources into the effort – primarily people – and administered more than 100% of the doses it received. (Pfizer’s five-dose vials actually contained enough for six or even seven doses.) That was a feat few other institutions achieved, especially in the early days of vaccine availability. 

The successful rollout meant working around the clock, seven days a week. But Kroon says people simply stepped up, ready to do whatever was needed. They were aided by a COVID-19 vaccine standard operating procedure manual created by UCSF Health’s Pharmacy Department – a guide that outlines every facet of the logistically challenging enterprise. The 100-plus-page document describes how to open and run mini pharmacies at Parnassus (those are now closed), Mission Bay, San Francisco City College, and UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital Oakland. 

“We carefully prepare each dose, labeling every syringe so we know exactly when the vaccine came out of the freezer to ensure we don’t waste any,” Kroon says, “because that would just be tragic.” 

In a pandemic defined by tragedy, Kroon is determined not to add to the misery. 

At the beginning, those managing the rollout huddled many times a day to discuss what went right and what went wrong. Most wrinkles were easy to iron out. One was not. 

“Appointments are scheduled based on the anticipated supply, but this has been in flux,” she says. “Unfortunately, vaccine schedules have had to be adjusted last-minute.” 

As the rollout continues, supply has become more dependable. In the meantime, some patience and a can-do attitude go a long way. 

“It’s not a ‘We can’t.’ It’s just ‘How are we going to do this?’” Kroon says. “That’s UCSF.” 

– Katherine Conrad for UCSF Magazine

Read the Summer 2021 Issue